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Does This Quest Come with CliffsNotes?

Stephanie Carmichael | 19 Oct 2012 09:00
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Everything about our internet habits today says we crave immediate gratification, the kind we're likely to find in a five-to-10 minute mobile game like Angry Birds. As technology improves, we're constantly inching closer to becoming "shallow consumers of information," unable to "think deeply." Our patience wanes with mere seconds of slow load times, just as routinely checking social media networks like Facebook and Twitter - websites designed for short, easily consumed doses of information - can impair our ability to concentrate. Nowadays, we like what's quick and simple.

The advent of social, mobile, and even downloadable games are providing us experiences that we can enjoy in the time it takes us to tweet or update our Facebook status

Yet some of us can't wait to get home and slay dragons in Skyrim - a massive game that can occupy hundreds of hours. With a vast world of media only a click or download away, why do we still opt for games that require a major commitment when evidence suggests we prefer more bite-sized adventures?

The advent of social, mobile, and even downloadable games are providing us experiences that we can enjoy in the time it takes us to tweet or update our Facebook status, but many of us still cave to bigger releases - perhaps because they're more fulfilling.

"The appeal of a larger game is multi-faceted," says Trent Oster, the director of business development at Beamdog, which is distributing an updated version of the classic roleplaying game Baldur's Gate to PCs and mobile platforms this September. "The main facet for me is the depth. With Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition ... you can play through with a good party or an evil party, mostly mages, all fighters, or a balanced missile weapon/melee party. You can perform every good quest or be a jerk and go only for personal gain. These are choices and depth smaller games just cannot offer."

But even longer games take a few shortcuts, whittling down the time it takes for players to complete an objective or travel from point A to point B. Regardless of genre, we expect developers to offer immersive tutorials instead of written ones, skippable cut-scenes, fast travel systems, and for the love of god, faster scrolling text! And it's easy to forget that a lot of the time, RPGs are basically a ton of manageable side quests strung together.

Despite either appeal, people might default to longer or shorter games because of their lifestyle. Teenagers often rely on allowances and summer jobs for money, so they might choose one or two games that can keep them busy for several months. Adults earn more income, but getting older also means taking on more responsibilities.

"I think adults just simply don't have that much time," says Jenova Chen, creative director of Thatgamecompany. "If you want to entertain them, then you better entertain them within a short amount of time. Everybody's time is valuable once you start working and running a family. But kids and teenagers don't have those responsibilities. They have all this time that they need to kill."

Both Chen and Oster agree that it's not always length that matters, but the kind of experience you're seeking. Longer games are typically designed to immerse the player in a carefully crafted story and world, offering an escape, while shorter games aim for intensity.

Chen says their recent hit game, Journey, which takes about two hours to play, "used to last a lot longer.

"And we could have made the game longer," he says, "but then all the feeling we built up would slowly dissipate."

But games are still a business, and many companies see a money-making logic to producing longer games. For gamers, if the number of hours promised on the box exceeds the cost of the game itself, then it's easy to view it as a better investment. So if a game is 80 hours long and costs only $10, the return on entertainment is hypothetically greater.

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